At the stroke of five o’clock last Friday, the new head of No. 10’s Union unit was due to brief government aides on the robust new strategy to counter the SNP. It was urgently needed: campaigning for the Scottish parliament election starts in a few weeks and if Nicola Sturgeon wins a majority — as looks likely — she’ll demand another independence referendum. She stands a very good chance of winning. Any plan to save Britain must be put into action now.
From a distance, Nicola Sturgeon seems unbeatable. Polls show her party with just over 50 per cent of the vote, quite a feat in a five-party parliament. But this week, she has found herself fighting for her political future. Alex Salmond’s sensational claim to be the victim of a conspiracy designed to destroy him — even ‘imprison’ him — has the potential to bring down the House of Sturgeon.
Salmond alleges that his successor has misled the Scottish parliament on multiple occasions about her knowledge of (and involvement in) her government’s investigation into complaints of sexual misconduct made against him.
Spring is coming, the roadmap out of lockdown is here, and the faint signs of an End To All This can be seen, in smoke rings, on the horizon. I scan the list of freedoms with impatience: schools, if you must, parental visits in parks, fine, fine, but when will I get to see my girlfriend indoors?
If you express some level of frustration with lockdown life, the worry is that you will be taken for someone who believes the right to spread plague is enshrined in the Magna Carta or that society took a wrong turn with the suspiciously foreign antics of Louis Pasteur.
Bring back the Tufty Club. Bring back the Green Cross Code. Bring back ‘Charley says’. Bring back ‘Only a fool breaks the two-second rule’. Bring back Vinnie Jones and ‘Stayin’ Alive’. Bring back the Country Code and ‘Always take your litter home’. Bring back public information films. Bring back the Central Office of Information.
For younger readers, I probably need to explain what the hell I am talking about.
Tufty was created for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and was an implausibly sensible young squirrel whose behaviour (in contrast to the foolish antics of the louche Willy Weasel) gave lessons to children on road sense.
When the Prime Minister mentioned ‘Covid status certification’ as part of his route back to normal life, one man must have enjoyed the moment. For Tony Blair it was yet one more little victory in his UK comeback tour, made all the sweeter because Boris Johnson was once a principal opponent of the idea of any ID card system.
Blair has been pushing vaccine passports like nobody’s business. A recent paper published by his Institute for Global Change advocated that we carry ‘digital health passports’ on our smartphones, which we could scan on entry to bars, theatres and other places.
To find out who your true friends and rivals really are, just gauge the reaction to news of your latest success story. It is revealing, for example, that many French officials have taken grave exception to the stunning speed and efficiency of our national vaccination programme.
This became clear at the end of January, when President Emmanuel Macron defied medical opinion by unjustly claiming that the AstraZeneca jab was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for elderly people.
Shops are boarded up. More than four million people are on furlough with little idea of whether they will have jobs to go back to. Global trade has hit levels last seen a decade ago, and government deficits are soaring, while most developed economies have seen output shrink by 10 per cent, a collapse not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. On just about every measure imaginable, the global economy has never been in worse shape, and we are all a lot poorer.
Soon, as the rates of coronavirus deaths and infections plummet, we’re likely to focus more on those who suffer what is being called ‘long Covid’ — yet the truth is we know very little about what precisely it is. Long Covid began as a quiet murmur in the background: anecdotal stories about symptoms which extended beyond the predicted 14-day recovery time. There’s no agreed definition, so it’s hard to say how many sufferers there are, but a survey from the Office for National Statistics suggests it affects as many as one in ten of those who have had the virus.
‘If I owned Texas and Hell,’ General Phil Sheridan famously said, ‘I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.’ Although the weather was unusually warm for the season in central Texas we guessed something was up when, in broad daylight with hawks about, our normally crepuscular attic mice risked running down a porch pillar and gathering the spilled seed from bird feeders. They vanished completely days before the snowstorm struck.
The latest fight between the EU and the UK isn’t over vaccines, but molluscs. Brussels won’t grant Britain a special export health licence for the trade of ‘live bivalve molluscs’ unless they are purified first. The problem is, once they’ve been purified they have to be eaten within 48 hours, which gives them too short a shelf life to be practical for export.
This affects the trade of cockles, clams and mussels, but if the beleaguered British shellfish industry were to collapse, I think I’d be saddest about the oysters.